Our first year with this was our worst experience. I put a broody Welsummer into the goats' kidding stall with nine home-laid eggs and gave her Buff Orpington chicks at night. All the other chickens could see them through fencing, but not get to them. When I first let the new chicks out, they had their own area. Eventually they began to mingle with the original flock.
|I let the chickens out to free range at about 8 a.m. This used to be to|
keep the crowing from bothering the neighbors too early. Recently my
next door neighbors got chickens, so perhaps it doesn't matter so much.
Two chickens in particular were constantly chasing and attacking the newcomers. These were my Barred Hollands. Lord B, our rooster, was extremely possessive of the coop, chicken yard, hens, and anything he thought they might like to eat. He was persistently aggressive toward the chicks and finally killed one of them. Eventually, we had to eliminate him.
The next year I wasn't ready for another broody hen, because I was still trying to figure out an area for hatching and brooding when the kidding stall was otherwise occupied. I had one, however, and this one was persistent. I finally gave her three eggs, of which one hatched.
|My three Speckled Sussex hens drinking whey from mozzarella making.|
I set up mama and chick in a pen in the chicken yard. They kept getting out so I just let things be. With only one chick to guard, she was able to keep him safe from the other chickens. Eventually mama returned to the flock and I had a lone rooster who was always by himself. However, we only keep one rooster and he wasn't it.
This past year I decided to try something different. We hadn't been all that impressed with our Buff Orpingtons so when one of them went broody, Dan wanted to get some Silver Laced Wyandottes and I wanted some Speckled Sussex. I decided to fence off a nesting and brooding area within the coop itself. I hoped that this way, the chicks would be seen as part of the coop territory. They remained in their brooder area until they got too big and I had to let them out.
|One of my 3 Silver Laced Wyandotte cockerels|
Nothing stops the "initiation" rites amongst chickens. The pecking order is very specific and no chicken wants to lose her place. The oldest chickens are always on the top and always have first rights to anything chickens want: food, tidbits, water bucket, and the top roosting bars. Eventually, after much pecking, many squabbles, and considerable chasing, every chicken knows their place in the chicken order of things. The best I could hope for was that they reached that understanding quickly and that no chicken was totally rejected or killed in the process.
The biggest trouble maker was our Buff Orpington rooster, Cowboy. He wasn't as viscous as Lord B had been, but he seemed to take great pleasure in sneaking up behind a young pullet or cockerel, grabbing a beakful of tail feathers, and strutting around proudly with those feathers in his beak.
|Cowboy's legacy: 6 out of 6 eggs were pullets!|
A pullet is a young hen under 1 year of age.
Well, we'd already decided to have a go with the Wyandottes, so Cowboy and the three Sussex cockerels were the first elected for freezer camp. That leaves us with about 20 hens of six breeds and 3 SLW cockerels from which to eventually choose a flock rooster. The good news was that the chicken yard battles gradually began to smooth out and I noticed the chickens simply hanging out together.
|Chickens hanging out by the fenceline. Why there? I don't know.|
One other thing seemed to help. That was moving the feeder out of the hen house and into the chicken yard. Food is always something animals are possessive about, so I figured moving it out of the coop would make it more neutral territory. I cover it at night and move it back in when it rains, but otherwise, this has worked very well.
Eventually we'll get down to one rooster again. I also still have some of my original hens, so I'll have to see how laying goes after they finish their moult. The Welsummers laid extremely well in their fourth summer, which I think recommends them. Free range hens are said to lay as long as 10 year, although production decreases. For now, we'll sit tight and wait and see what the future brings.
I would love to hear your experiences regarding chickens, chicks, laying, brooding, and integration! Please do take time to comment.
Of Chickens, Chicks, & Flock Integration © November 2013